The thick of the NFL offseason has already arrived which means free agency will soon begin in earnest. Teams cannot contact unrestricted free agents until March 15, exactly two days before the start of the 2021 league year. However, news regarding the top players will circulate before the free agency officially kicks off, and this year’s market could feature big-name talents like Dak Prescott, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and Kenny Golladay. The franchise tag will likely remove one or more from the open market, but more will reach free agency when the legal-tampering period opens.
2020 in review
Like the two seasons that proceeded it, 2020 saw James Conner miss a significant number of games to injury. The veteran running back has not appeared in more than 13 games since becoming the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starter, and his play has regressed since his breakout 2018 campaign. This past year, he recorded just six touchdowns while failing to reach 1,000 yards from scrimmage. However, the decline in production doesn’t fall solely on his shoulders, as the offense around him has regressed in recent years.
Do the Steelers want to keep him?
March 2nd update: The Steelers are unlikely to keep Conner, per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. He will hit free agency on March 17th.
During a press conference on Feb. 17, general manager Kevin Colbert expressed concerns about the Steelers’ ability to re-sign their 19 unrestricted free agents. Colbert also critiqued the performance of the ground game this past season, casting further doubt on Conner’s prospects to return for 2021.
Conner departing would give Benny Snell the inside track for the Steelers’ starting job. In the three games Snell saw double-digit carries last season, he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt. Conner could find himself in a situation similar to that of Drake when he first left the Miami Dolphins, meaning a short-term deal could pave the way for a bigger payday if he plays well.
No credible report has surfaced connecting Conner to an opening, but the veteran running back does plan to test the free-agent market regardless of the Steelers’ intentions.